KIDS COUNT Finds Mixed Progress in Child Well-Being

While the percentage of American children living in poverty fell in 2015, many continue to live in high-poverty areas and gains in children's well-being could be lost without continued investment, an annual report from the Annie. E. Casey Foundation finds.

According to the 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book (66 pages, PDF), 21 percent of all children in the United States lived in poverty in 2015, down slightly from 22 percent in 2014. The report also found that between 2010 and 2015, the percentage of children whose parent(s) did not have full-time year-round employment fell from 33 percent to 29 percent, while the percentage whose families struggled with a significant housing cost burden fell from 41 percent to 33 percent. Over the same period, the share of children living in high-poverty areas held steady at 14 percent, with higher rates in Southern and Southwestern states.

The report, which measured child well-being in four areas — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community — also found minimal gains in indicators of academic achievement. Although rates of high school completion and fourth-grade reading proficiency improved from 2010 to 2015, the percentage of children not attending pre-K classes has remained largely unchanged since 2009, while the eighth-grade math proficiency rate has gotten slightly worse.

The report did find progress in a number of health indicators, including the uninsured rate for children, which fell from 8 percent in 2010 to 5 percent in 2015; the share of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs, which fell  from 7 percent to 5 percent; and child and teen deaths, which was down from 26 per 100,000 to 25 per 100,000. At the state level, New Hampshire ranked first overall in child well-being, followed by Massachusetts, Vermont, Minnesota, and Iowa, while Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, Nevada, and Arizona ranked lowest.

The report also notes that racial disparities in child well-being persist and argues that further progress in eliminating them will require the kinds of targeted investments at the state and federal levels that have brought about improvements in children's health, educational attainment, and family stability. To that end, the report calls on policy makers to preserve state and federal support for healthcare programs and to pass legislation that removes systemic barriers to enrollment in those programs; invest in early-childhood education programs; and expand programs designed to foster economic stability for low-income families, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

"Eight years after the most devastating recession of our lifetime, we are pleased to see some positive trends in many areas of child well-being," said Casey Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy. "As policy makers search for ideas to expand the economy and bring economic opportunity to families, I urge them not to abandon targeted public investments that are helping more people lift themselves out of poverty and gain access to health care."

"Casey Foundation to Policymakers: Don't Backtrack on Gains for U.S. Children." Annie E. Casey Foundation Press Release 06/13/2017.